I had the exciting opportunity to do a mini Q&A with Virginia Frances Schwartz after reading her book, Among the Fallen! If you’re a fan of historical fiction, anything Victorian, or Charles Dickens, I highly recommend checking this one out.
Among the Fallen released October 8th, 2019. You can find my review for the book here.
Synopsis: “Imprisoned for crimes she didn’t commit, sixteen-year-old Orpha accepts an unusual invitation to live in a Victorian home for fallen women– and finds new hope.
Though haunted by nightmarish flashbacks and withering in the miserable conditions of Tothill prison, an infamous Victorian workhouse, Orpha perseveres, doing what she can to befriend and protect the other girls imprisoned alongside her. She doesn’t speak about what happened– no one would listen. No one would believe her.
But then a mysterious letter arrives, offering her a place at Urania cottage. This experimental home aims to rehabilitate so-called fallen women– many of them victims of sexual abuse, suffering not only the trauma of their experiences, but the blame and loss of reputation and livelihood.
It sounds too good to be true– but with nowhere else to go, Orpha decides to take her chance. Soon she discovers her unknown savior is none other than Charles Dickens, whose writing deals extensively with the plight of the lower class, and whose friendship and guidance offers Orpha a new way to express herself.
With the support of the other women of Urania and the promise of a real future, Orpha will have to confront the darkest parts of her past– and let go of her secrets.
This atmospheric historical novel, full of heartbreakingly real characters whose lives are all too believable, celebrates the strength and resilience of young women throughout history. Virginia Frances’ Schwartz’s powerful prose, structured to echo Dickens’ serialized style, illuminates an era of startling inequality and extreme poverty. Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, and Katherine Paterson’s Lyddie will enjoy this riveting title.”
- What inspired you to write about these girls at Urania?
The exhibit that first inspired me to write was of “Dickens at 200” in The Morgan Library. Here, among many famous drafts and paintings, were letters about the girls of Urania written by Dickens. They were tongue-in-cheek funny, sarcastic and wonderful to read. Full of pet nicknames for the girls and details of dress, they brought vivid images of the girls to my mind. I immediately wondered, What if I were one of those fallen girls?
- Where did you start your research for this book?
Naturally I began my research at The Morgan. They have a scholar’s library there with wonderful artifacts like Dickens’s original letters to his friend, Lady Coutts, the benefactor who financially supported Urania. To hold his letters in my gloved hands was a thrill! The NYC Public Library & the Queens Library system were invaluable for my day to day historical research.
- What advice would you have for someone wanting to write historical fiction?
Read. Read. Read. Read all you can get your hands on about the time period. Take notes and carefully arrange them into sections so you can return to them later. Meanwhile, jot down the images and ideas of the story separately. Facts can inform story. At a certain point, you need to leave the research behind and enter story. Later, you can and will have to go back and forth again and again between story and research. Story is gut. Research is the brains. To write historical fiction, you need both.
- If you could have lunch with any Victorian figure (other than Dickens), who would it be?
Queen Victoria. She was an icon. A public figure with a private life. A husband she adored. A very long reign. Deliberation as a monarch. All those children and all those outfits! Besides, I bet lunch was divine!
- If you were to write about a time period other than the Victorian era, which would you choose?
As an historical fiction author, I have written about slavery in the US South in the mid 1800’s, the underground railroad to Canada during the same period and immigration in Canada around the 1920’s. Currently, I am at work on an historical fantasy featuring WW2 Britain. To me, setting and time period are their own characters. I love making them come to life and speak.
- What is your favourite Dickens novel?
I love them all! I read “A Christmas Carol” at a very young age. The ghosts never left me. Dickens’s theme of transformation is a theme I have used over and over in all my novels. But, if I had to pick only one, it would be “Great Expectations”. A reader’s and writer’s dream. In the first few pages, there is gloom, mystery, betrayal and a child’s entire future is sealed by his actions. Later, there will be revelations, coincidences, intersecting lives, secrets and romance. That novel has everything. Don’t you want to read it right now?